Rubavu — On Sunday after pushing back U.N. and government troops, the M23 rebels advanced to within 3 kilometers of Goma - a crucial provincial capital in eastern Congo - marking the first time that rebels have come this close since 2008.
Residents were trying to evacuate their families from Goma while trucks full of Congolese soldiers were seen leaving the city this morning. Last evening, a stampede of Congolese refugees, carrying personal belongings, started crossing the border into Rwanda.
One of the refugees, Jean-Michel Mukasa, told The Rwanda Focus that Goma streets were empty and that the city was nearly void when he fled. There are also several reports that the majority of government soldiers had fled the city.
Goma woke to the sounds of heavy weapons and gunfire as the M23 forces fought their way south to reach as close as a few kilometers north of the city's outer suburbs. Fighting has been going on since 6 a.m. and the frontline has moved about 4 kilometers away from Goma.
But by late afternoon, the fighting had died down and other M23 commanders claimed that they had no intention of continuing their advance into the city center.
On their Facebook page, M23 posted that they "don't want fighting inside the city of Goma" and called on government troops "to lay down arms."
"We are requesting the government troops to lay down arms. We don't have problems with you because we are the same. We request the population to not fear, and to stay together because M23 is a disciplined army," said the Facebook statement in Swahili.
Local governor Julien Paluku might have been evacuated from the Goma to Bukavu.